The 8 Essential Sugars. And A LOT More!
In the wild there are eight essential sugars exotic birds require in order to thrive.
Keep in mind while reading that the "amount" of sugar in each fruit is not the same as the "kind" of sugar in each fruit. While some fruit may contain high amounts of naturally occurring sugars, it is the "kind or type" of sugar that is of most importance.
It is scientific fact that birds have a blood glucose level several times higher than that of humans. (http://people.eku.edu/ritchisong/birdcirculatory.html)
Furthermore exotic birds are first and foremost frugivorous, secondly herbivorous, thirdly insectivorous and opportunistic carnivores (please take that last category with a grain of salt; lightly salted, lol.) While some exotic birds will partake of mollusks such as mussels, clams, snails, oysters and the like these are usually Macaws and African Greys that actually go hunting for them. Other species will eat mussels if they happen to come across them. Most exotic birds will partake of the meat of dead carcasses if they happen to come across them, but will not literally scout for the meat or kill rodents like raptors do. Though it is true that all birds need some amount of animal protein in their diet in order to derive Vitamin B12 most birds are able to fulfill their need for animal protein by consuming large amounts of insects and larvae they find within the very fruit they consume while perching, playing and preening in the canopies of their respective forests.
Knowing and understanding these three very important facts we can then move forward in preparing our birds’ diets with more confidence.
Exotic birds spend almost all of their time in the mid-canopy to upper canopy of their respective forests, whether their species is indigenous to the rain forest or the arid forest. Some exotic birds do spend some amount of their time on the ground foraging for food like tubers, larvae, dirt, fallen seed, legumes and grain. These are most likely to be Cockatoos and Cockatiels, although the African Greys spend some amount of time on the ground as well, but usually we would see them along the banks of rivers and streams. There are other less, well-known species of ground-foragers that many of us do not keep in our homes as “pets”, but I am addressing only those species most of us have in our homes. Birds such as the great Macaws, African Greys, Cockatoos, Cockatiels, Lovebirds, Parrotlets, Indian Ringnecks, Alexandrines, Eclectus, Great Bills, Amazons, Conures, Pionus, and most of the Poicephalus species, they tend to hang out in the trees during the day hours.
Think of what is available in the forest trees to consume as food…fruit, the live seed within that fruit, the insects and larvae that feed on the fruit, living nuts, tender leaves and greens, and tender bark. It only makes sense that these magnificent exotic birds would consume the most delectable, most ripe fruit full of sweetness first and foremost!
With such high metabolic rates and hearts that beat rapidly they require foods that feed their high metabolism. Interestingly enough Nature provided tropical fruits that are exceedingly high in those eight essential monosaccharides and lower in fructose than our domestic fruits we are accustomed to consuming on a daily basis in our American homes. Especially with a blood glucose level several times higher than ours exotic birds require monosaccharides that are designed specifically for their systems; fruit sugars embedded in fruit pectin that will not dramatically raise their insulin levels only to drastically fall while they are in flight to their next destination. No, instead their systems require monosaccharides provided in a fiber, like pectin that delivers those monosaccharides slowly, evenly and reliably in order to sustain their rapid metabolism while they are in flight for both short and long distances.
Fruit pectin containing the eight essential monosaccharides accomplishes just that job!
What are the 8 essential monosaccharides tropical fruit contain that domestic fruit are relatively low in compared to other naturally occurring sugars?
- Glucose (http://www.britannica.com/science/glucose)
- Galactose (http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/galactose -often found in naturally occurring “gums” like plantain juices and rubber plants),
- Mannose (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mannose),
- Xylose (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xylose),
- N-acetyl-galactosamine (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N-Acetylgalactosamine),
- Fucose (not be confused with Fructose) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fucose and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12651883),
- N-acetyl glucosamine (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N-Acetylglucosamine) It is theorized that African Greys may require less of this monosaccharide in their diet due to the fact they do not produce “chitinase”, the digestive enzyme necessary to digest “chitin” the exoskeleton of insects.
- N-acetyl neuraminic acid (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N-Acetylneuraminic_acid). Of these eight essential monosaccharides glucose is the most important and most abundant monosaccharide.
What is a “monosaccharide?” It is the most simple, single-unit sugar available for direct absorption and assimilation into the metabolic system. In other words cells immediately absorb these single-unit sugars for immediate use and energy production. While dietary fat may be the first and most long-lasting source of energy for a living creature, carbohydrates like monosaccharides provide an immediate, short-living boost of energy. Next to dietary fat the carbohydrates our exotic birds consume must be the most reliable sources of food we feed them aside from the micronutrients such as the vitamins and minerals contained within those carbohydrates.
The classification of this kind of fiber as “carbohydrate”, because that’s what carbohydrates are, a kind of fiber is extremely important. Fruit contains “pectin” fiber which is a soluble fiber. This soluble fiber is gentle on the digestive tract. It performs the duties of carefully flushing toxins from the mucus lining without harming the delicate membrane of the mucus lining while also delivering all of the nutrients the pectin contains such as the monosaccharides, digestive enzymes (foundational building blocks that help with the absorption of the nutrients), fatty acids (Omegas), amino acids (plant and animal proteins), vitamins and minerals.
Remember, exotic birds spend much of their time in the mid-canopy and upper canopy of their respective forests consuming what? Fruit, the live seed within that fruit, the insects and larvae that feed on the fruit, living nuts, tender leaves and greens, and tender bark. All of these are comprised of either pectin fiber or “hemicellulose” fiber and both of these fibers (carbohydrates) are soluble fibers that gently flush and deliver nutrients at the same time they pass through the digestive tract. Even young, tender bark is comprised of hemicellulose fiber, not cellulose which is mature, tough insoluble fiber. Think about it, the higher up the tree the younger the bark, the lower down the tree the older the bark. Where do these birds spend their time? High in the trees where the bark is young and tender. I digress.
Reiterating points I have redundantly made regarding cellulose, it is an insoluble fiber that literally scrubs the digestive tract. Nature intended this fiber for living creatures with long and wide digestive tracts, and also have a cecum to liquefy the cellulose to be reabsorbed back into the metabolic system. Therefore those long and winding digestive tracts could be thoroughly cleaned out by the laxative action cellulose offers. Parrots have a short and narrow digestive tract and NO cecum and therefore no use for cellulose in their diet. The fibers they need are pectin and hemicellulose to gently flush and deliver dense nutrients for immediate uptake into their systems.
At any rate it is the tropical fruits that will help maintain the health of our birds over any other kind of fruit. While feeding dark berries will no doubt help prevent cancer in our birds due to the “anthocyanins” and phenolic content, tropical fruit should, in my opinion make up about 40-50% of our birds’ diets. Domestic fruits should be fed only sparingly due to the fact that the fructose (whether naturally occurring or added to processed foods) will raise the insulin levels unnecessarily of our birds’ overall endocrine systems. With our companion birds now fighting avian diabetes this is not the direction we want to head.
While we are on this subject be warned that feeding foods high in starch will cause the same reactions in our birds’ systems as feeding too much fructose. Foods such as tubers and roots, grains (cooked and uncooked), legumes (cooked and uncooked), dead and dried seeds (and even too many sprouted seeds), pasta, sweet potatoes, yams, certain varieties of squash, bird breads, flours, crackers, chips and highly processed foods and kibble are high in starch. Starch immediately turns to sugar once in the digestive tract. If you want to feed seed, legumes and grains make sure to sprout just until you can barely see the tail pop. This causes the digestive enzyme “amylase” to activate. Amylase is the enzyme necessary in order to digest starch. Exotic birds do not produce amylase in their mouths like humans do. In fact birds do not produce amylase until way down in their pancreas. This places a strain on their overall endocrine system raising their insulin levels if amylase is not present in the foods they consume. Even if you feed sprouted foods please do not over-feed them; balance them out with dietary fat (necessary for proper brain function as well as the primary energy source), tropical fruit containing the 8 essential monosaccharides and the tender greens along with a small amount of dietary clay necessary in order to begin the hydrolysis process (breaking down of nutrients). Don’t forget the animal protein – meal worms and/or mollusks depending on the species of your bird.
I like to feed meal worms to most of my birds, but African Greys do not produce the digestive enzyme “chitinase” in order to digest insects. Therefore, according what they eat in the wild, it may be best to feed your African Grey slightly steamed mussels, snails, clams or oysters. Never, ever feed these raw to your birds due to bacteria. If you do not feed some kind of animal protein to your birds they will lack Vitamin B12 in their diet which is absolutely necessary for their overall health in regards to proper brain function, nerve function and the regeneration of cells throughout the entire body.
As you are discovering it is absolutely impossible for me to write simply about one nutrient without mentioning other related nutrients. Nutrition is like that! There is no way to isolate one nutrient, whether it be protein, fat, carbohydrate – any of the macronutrients, or any one vitamin or mineral – any of the micronutrients, without discussing other co-nutrients. All nutrients are symbiotic and synergistic. Every nutrient has many co-nutrients in order to be properly absorbed and metabolized. That’s why I have to chuckle when a manufacturer touts a certain product where ONE nutrient is isolated, such as some vitamin and says that this one vitamin will do this or that. NO IT WILL NOT! Emphatically it will not! This is why I do not believe in adding back in synthetic vitamins to highly processed food. Oh sure, if you want to give a simple, little boost to food that already contains naturally occurring vitamins for a specific reason for very ill birds, yeah, sure I agree with that principle. I do not agree adding vitamins back into a food that completely and totally lacks the original, naturally occurring vitamins due to the manner in which the food was processed. No, never. Isolated vitamins in food that contain no co-nutrients will never make up for what was removed in the first place! Never!
Wrapping things up…remember your exotic bird still retains its original DNA from deep in the forest where its ancestors came from. Your feathered friend requires the very nutrients Nature intended for your bird. Taking your bird out of the forest did not remove the need for forest nutrition from your bird’s intrinsic needs for the species’ nutritional requirements Nature intended!
WARNING: If you do a search for the 8 essential monosaccharides you will most likely not find research papers that coincide with my information. The research for my book “You Can’t Take the Rainforest Out of the Bird” began back in late 2011. At that time finding research information pertaining to the eight essential monosaccharides was fairly easy. Today that research information is virtually wiped clean off the Internet in favor of those who may benefit from the sale of high fructose corn syrup. Now it appears science is slowly beginning to be re-written listing fructose as one of the eight essential monosaccharides when previously it was not listed as such. Buyer beware! This is only to benefit the profit margins of those whose interests lay in the public’s consumption of high fructose corn syrup. (http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1892841,00.html)
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